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Undergrads Win Research Awards In 2020

USU’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) grant program was established in 1975 to support faculty-mentored undergraduate student research projects. URCO awards provide a $1,000 scholarship directly to the student, and can include a request for up to $1,000 in additional funds for equipment and supplies. The program is competitive, with proposals reviewed and critiqued by teams of faculty members outside the departments of the applicant and mentor. Over the past five years our department is tied with one other for the highest number of applications. The overall URCO funding rate is about 60%, our department’s success rate over this time period is 65%.

For a full list of university-wide awards go to: URCO Winners - USU Office of Research

Student titrating in a physical chemistry laboratory class at USU in fall 2020
Student and instructor conversing during a physical chemistry laboratory class at USU in fall 2020

Above: USU Chemistry Laboratory Classes

Summer 2020

  • Arianna Towne, Joan Hevel mentor. Project title: “Investigating the Impact of the Primary Amino Acid Sequence of C. elegans PRMT1 on Enzyme Activity and Thermostability”
  • Roberston Miles (biology major), Ryan Jackson mentor. Project title: “Solving the Structure of Octahedral VP1 Protein via Three- Dimensional Electron Micros-copy Image Algorithms”

Spring 2020

  • Saul Gonzalez, Nick Dickenson mentor. Project title: “Identification and Charac-terization of Protein-Protein Interactions between the Shigella T3SS ATPase Spa47 and its predicted regulators MxiN and Spa33”
  • Abigail Jones, Joan Hevel mentor. Proj-ect title: “Transforming a quantitative Pro-tein Arginine Methyltransferase (PRMT) assay into a high-throughput assay”

Fall 2020

  • Alexander Lake, Lisa Berreau mentor. Project title: “Synthesis, Characterization and Biological Studies of Flavonol Esters as CO Releasing Molecules”
  • Alex Lyons, Ruyan Jackson mentor. Project title: “Discovering Virally Encod-ed Proteins that Block Type IV CRISPR Immune Systems”
  • Tate Shepherd, Joanie Hevel mentor. Project title: “Substrate Purity and its Ef-fect on PRMT1 Activity”
  • Emily Wilson, Joanie Hevel mentor. Project title: “Investigating the Direct Ef-fect of Phosphorylation on the Oligomeric State and Activity of PRMT1”

The URCO program is not the only under-graduate research funding route open to our students. The College of Science summer minigrant program targets first-time research experiences and provides $1K in funding to students to help them financially devote time in the summer to gain research experience. Our undergraduate research students fared well in this program, winning six of the eleven awards for the summer of 2020.

Samantha Benovitz, in Kim Hageman’s lab, worked on a project testing the efficiency of a high volume water sampler in retaining or-ganic contaminants. Anthony Peidl, in Joan Hevel’s lab, investigated the binding of S-Ad-enosyl methionine in the active site of three different PRMT1 constructs harboring muta-tions linked to cancer. Jeremy Shaw, in Yi Rao’s research group, is studied carbon di-oxide reduction of cuprous oxide under elec-trocatalysis, photocatalysis and photoelec-trocatalysis. Josafat Vargas, in the group of Lisa Berreau, is pursued the synthesis of a coumarin flavonol, a molecule that releases carbon monoxide when induced by photoirra-diation. Andrew Williams worked in the lab of Ryan Jackson, investigating anti-CRISPR genes that act against CRISPR bacterial im-mune systems. Another student in the Jack-son lab, Olivia Gornichec, investigated the Type IV-B CRISPR system, an immune sys-tem found in bacteria.

For graduate students, the Graduate Re-search and Creative Opportunity (GRCO) grants provide $1,000 to support original research, scholarship, or creative work by USU graduate students with the guidance of a faculty member. This program began is a partnership between the Student Involvement and Leadership Center and the Office of Re-search. Graduate students who have an idea for extending their research project into a new area or direction can apply for these awards. In the 2020 funding cycle there were 52 pro-posals, of which 12 were funded, one from our department. This was awarded to Ruidan Shen, working in the lab of Alvan Hengge, for the project “Broadening the perspective on mobile loop dynamics regulating catalysis from the protein tyrosine phosphatase family.”

Writer: Alvan Hengge, Professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry